The Last Winter

2007, Movie, NR, 100 mins


Larry Fessenden's quietly unnerving horror picture revolves around an eight-person oil-drilling advance crew stalked by some malevolent, unseen something that lurks in the unbearable whiteness of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge.

Off limits for development until a recent congressional decision, the Wildlife Refuge's oil reserves are largely an unknown quantity: The only effort was ever made to assess the situation was back in 1986, when the Kick Corp sank a test well that was immediately sealed. Now mega-corporation North Industries has established a team in the area and charged gruff, macho company man Ed Pollack (Ron Perlman) with clearing the way to move in heavy drilling equipment. This being the 21st century, the North Industry crew is accompanied by environmental expert James Hoffman (James LeGros) and his assistant, Elliot Taylor (James Harrold), who must assess the impact of the company's plans before construction can proceed. Pollack and Hoffman clash immediately, and not just over their diametrically opposed points of view about wilderness development, the energy crisis and global warming: While Pollack was a away on a five-week trip to corporate headquarters, Hoffman hooked up with Pollack's girl, Abby (Connie Britton). The atmosphere is already explosive when junior team member Maxwell (Zack Gilford) disappears for several hours and returns traumatized by something he can't or won't describe. Isolated and spooked, the team members succumb to a sense of creeping anxiety that turns to paranoia and, inevitably, violence.

Fessenden's claustrophobic thriller, shot in Alaska and Iceland, inevitably recalls antecedents John Carpenters THE THING (1982) , the first-season X-Files episode "Ice" and, of course, ALIEN (1979), with its blue-collar team of working stiffs thrown to the wolves by their uncaring corporate masters. Neither Pollack nor Hoffman is as straightforward a character as he first appears, and the film's escalating anxiety is rooted as much in the characters' subtle, thorny relationships as fear of monsters and madmen. Fessenden consistently ignores contemporary trends in fright films; his brand of horror unfolds at the intersection of myth and modern-day malaise and gets there by way of a slow, excruciating build up rather than a series of short, sharp shocks. And if the film's 11th-hour CGI effects aren't entirely convincing, the notion that oil itself is haunted by the restless spirit of every once-living thing that time reduced and mingled into the earth's black blood throws off a primordial chill. leave a comment --Maitland McDonagh

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